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A Hall of Fame Career

Pitcher Dave Baldwin earned his spot in Cooperstown after he began to paint · by Joanna Cohen

WHEN DAVE BALDWIN played pro baseball, no one called him an artist.  These days, however, that is what the 58-year-old former reliever is.  Two years ago the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum acquired one of Baldwin's works, making him the only pitcher to get into Cooperstown because he could literally paint the corner.

In 1994 Baldwin, who lives in San Diego with his wife, Nadine, had sent photographs of his baseball-themed paintings to the Hall of Fame in the hope that his work, would be considered for display.  The Hall's five-member accessions committee, which receives dozens of submissions annually, was so taken by Baldwin's Fugue for the Pepper Players that it acquired the piece for its permanent collection.  "Baseball art can get heavy sometimes, but this painting has a whimsical and lighthearted feeling," says Ted Spencer, curator for the Hall of Fame and Museum.

When he was an undergraduate at Arizona, Baldwin was a promising pitcher, until he suffered an arm injury in his sophomore season, 1957.  He recovered, however, and the Philadelphia Phillies took a chance and signed him in 1959.

Baldwin played for nine minor league teams over the next eight seasons, earning the distinction of being released by farm clubs of the two teams that were then the worst in baseball (the New York Mets and the Houston Colt 45s, later renamed the Astros).  It wasn't until 1966 that Baldwin found his ticket out of the bush leagues, with the Washington Senators.

"Baldwin has as his major weapon a peculiar side-arm curve ball," wrote Leonard Shecter in SI in 1967, when Baldwin was in his first full year with the Senators.  "His strange delivery appears to start from third base.  He releases the ball somewhere between his belt and his knees, with a sweeping motion so far to the right that a right-handed hitter would have to look behind him to see it leave Baldwin's hand.  Left-handed hitters, however, are looking directly at his hand when he releases the ball." So lefty batters hit Baldwin hard.

The 29-year-old rookie finished with 12 saves and a 1.70 ERA in '67 but was unable to shed criticism that he was merely a "super specialist." After the '69 season, manager Ted Williams decided the team needed lefthanded pitching and Baldwin was traded.

In 1973 the Chicago White Sox granted Baldwin the 37 days of work he needed to qualify for his pension, and he went off to pursue a Ph.D. in genetics.  Baldwin first became interested in art while taking a course in scientific illustration.  Painting became a relaxing hobby as he

 pursued his doctoral work, but he never thought he was preparing for a third career.  In the early '90s, however, after working as a geneticist and an engineer for more than a decade, he suddenly found himself out of work.  "I was working in industries that were laying people off," he says.  "A 53-year-old with a Ph.D. in genetics has extremely limited job possibilities.

"Painting became a necessity," he continues.  He took up art full time in 1992, experimenting and learning more about painting.

Baldwin paints in a style that he calls "figurative abstraction." In almost all of his work, you might say realism takes a rain check.  Physical features are exaggerated, and scenes are whimsical.

Although the subjects of his paintings are wide-ranging, Baldwin uses his experience as an ex-major leaguer to explore many aspects of baseball as a theme.  In Kid with a New Glove he captures the joy of a child, and in Cool Papa the Negro leagues legend, Cool Papa Bell, is depicted in midslide.

"I've always loved the game," says Bald-win.  "My goal as an artist is to stimulate and direct the imagination of the viewer.  Baseball has always lent itself to the creation of graceful action and magic in art."


Baldwin’s distinctive style, as in “The Flyhawks” (left), 

features exaggerated characterizations.

Copyright © 1996 Sports Illustrated

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